Rating: Doctor Who, Season 5

In between seasons 4 and 5 of new-series Doctor Who there is a series of specials starring David Tennant, but our copy of the discs turned out to be defective, so while we wait for a good opportunity to replace them, our rewatching and rating project carries on to season 5.

  1. “The Eleventh Hour” – 3
  2. “The Beast Below” – 3
  3. “Victory of the Daleks” – 4
  4. “The Time of the Angels” – 6
  5. “Flesh and Stone” – 1.5
  6. “The Vampires of Venice” – 2
  7. “Amy’s Choice” – 2
  8. “The Hungry Earth” – 5
  9. “Cold Blood” – 2
  10. “Vincent and the Doctor” – 5
  11. “The Lodger” – 4
  12. “The Pandorica Opens” – 5
  13. “The Big Bang” – 6

The average rating for this season is a rather dismal 3.7, a big come-down from season 4’s 6.9. Nothing rises above a ho-hum 6, and almost half the episodes this season rate less than a 4, which is pretty much our minimal cut-off for ever wanting to see an episode again.

This season of Doctor Who poses one big question, and that question is: what on Earth happened to Stephen Moffat?? Many of our favorite episodes of previous season were written by Moffat: “The Empty Child” / “The Doctor Dances” in season 1, “The Girl in the Fireplace” in season 2, “Blink” in season 3, “Silence in the Library” / “The Forest of the Dead” in season 4. All these episodes were intricately-constructed masterpieces in which every piece fit, every tantalizing question had a satisfying answer, and the gee-whizery of the sci-fi was balanced with sensitive emotional stories. We had great expectations for Moffat’s first season a showrunner, and instead we got… this? The writing is clunky, the plots are full of janky bits that don’t fit, the characters are unpleasant, and the whimsy feels forced. We wonder whether the demands of production didn’t leave him time to develop his scripts more fully, or if perhaps the quality of his earlier scripts depended in part on good editing by the previous production team.

The new cast doesn’t improve matters. We don’t care for Matt Smith’s interpretation of the Doctor, which relies too much on surface wackiness and feels emotionally hollow. But even worse is the new companion, Amy Pond, played by Karen Gillan. All credit to Ms. Gillan for her acting, but the character is written as a whiny, self-centered bully. Both of these characters reflect an unappealing turn in Moffat’s writing, also visible in his series Sherlock: the belief that if a person is very clever or otherwise special, they get a pass on basic human decency. That’s a position we can’t get behind.

The lowest-rated episode of this season is “Flesh and Stone,” at 1.5. It’s the second part after the rather decent “The Time of the Angels,” following the Doctor’s adventures with a band of futuristic warrior priests in an underground labyrinth filled with Weeping Angels. The first episode give us a reasonably good set-up which the second just fails to pay off. The momentum built up in the first part sputters out as the second part pays its dues to the season-long “crack in the universe” arc. The Weeping Angels were one of Moffat’s most interesting creations in “Blink,” but they would have been better left alone than recycled for this episode.

The best episodes, both at 6, are “The Time of the Angels” and “The Big Bang.” “The Big Bang” does a better job of delivering the old Moffat magic with a complicated time-woven story about the Doctor and his friends racing to stop the end of the universe that was set off in the previous episode. It has some good moments and finally gives Amy’s Stockholm Syndrome victim boyfriend Rory something to do, but it never quite rises to its potential.

All in all, a real let-down of a season for us, but we know there are other folks out there who feel differently, including fans of Amy Pond and Matt Smith’s Doctor. What episodes this season did you love (or not)? Let us know in the comments!

Image: Doctor Who season 5 via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.


Black Panther Reaction Links

Sharing links to and quotes from some reaction pieces on the Black Panther movie adaptation.

Brandon O’Brien at Tor.com: “Building Bridges: Black Panther and the Difference Between Rage and Revolution”

“[Nakia]’s been doing it all alone, with no backup, even insisting on not being disturbed as she trots about the globe, righting capitalist neo-imperialist wrongs through her own wits. Nakia sees the value of providing a more lasting sense of peace for the disenfranchised, and knows that the late stage of that goal requires the commitment of Wakanda—not to wage war on other countries, but to seek out the downtrodden and lift them up and out of struggle. In her first scene in the film, she even has the empathy to see a child soldier as a boy first and an aggressor second, preferring to send him back home than to fight him.”


Brandon O’Brien at Tor.com: “‘Who are you?’: Black Panther and the Politics of Belonging”

Black Panther, however, is a revolution. Not merely in the sense that “it is revolutionary to see blackness this way,” though it is. But also in the sense that this movie is a revolutionary dialogue. […]

“Most of the introductions in the film happen in a very particular way. When Wakandans ask each other ‘Who are you?’, it happens not with any distrust or confusion, but with a display of pride. They are asking you to confess yourself, to admit that you are one of their own with the gusto of someone who deeply values what that means. You get to be someone. You get to be.”


Bridget Boakye at Face 2 Face Africa: “The Legendary Dahomey Amazons Are the Real-Life All-Women’s Army in Black Panther

“In the 1800s, there was an all-female army in modern-day Benin that pledged a similar loyalty to the throne [as Dora Milaje did]. They were known as the Dahomey Warriors and were praised for their bravery and strength by local leaders and European colonizers alike who encountered them.”


Chika Oduah at The Root: “Audiences Across Africa Hail Black Panther for Humanizing Black Characters”

“For many Africans, the film brought to the big screen a reality that they see every day—the Basotho blankets the warriors used as a protective shield, the queen’s Zulu hat, the ochre-dyed locks of the Himba, the flowing fabrics of the Wolof. It was the sheer Pan-Africanism of it all that astounded me. The cinematic display of the diversity of Africanness was beautiful.”


Damon Young at Very Smart Brothas / The Root: “Yet Another Reason Why Shuri From Black Panther Is the Greatest Disney Princess Ever”

“In the last half of the movie alone, [Shuri] saved a man’s life—even if the man was ‘another broken white boy.’ She guided said primitive white boy on how to use the advanced technology she created, which ultimately helped save the entire planet from mass war and anarchy. And then she went out and literally fought (and held her own for a while) against a supervillain. Cinderella ain’t got shit on her. [original emphasis]”


Emily Asher-Perrin at Tor.com: “Why Are You Reading Reviews About Black Panther When You Could Be Watching Black Panther?”

“You could call it Shakespearean, you could call it mythic, but that’s not where the film lives. It’s not about the broad strokes, it’s about the details. It’s about all the little choices in concert, creating something brand new, and creating it on a scale that cinema has never seen before.”


Karlton Jahmal at Hot New Hip Hop: Black Panther‘s Killmonger Is the Best Supervillain Since The Dark Knight‘s Joker”

“[T]he emotion that Michael B. Jordan left me with was more powerful than anything I’ve felt at the movies. That painful rage, that feeling of angst that builds up when the topic of slavery or Jim Crown is brought up. That acrimonious tension that resonates in my gut when I see videos of police brutality or ignorant politicians fueling a race war. That feeling was replaced. A resolve, a euphoric feeling of relief spread from inside me instead.”


Liz Bourke at Tor.com: “Sleeps With Monsters: The Women of Black Panther Are Amazing”

“It’s also a film that, while it centres on a man—and on questions of kingship, legitimacy, and responsibility—is the first superhero film I’ve ever seen to surround its main male character with women who are in many ways equally powerful, and who don’t depend on him for purpose or characterisation. No, seriously: this is the first superhero film I’ve ever seen—maybe the first SFF film I’ve ever seen—where pretty much the hero’s entire back-up team, his entire support network, were women. Women who teased him and challenged him and demanded he do better.”


Samuel James at Black Girl in Maine: “The Reality of Blackness in the Fiction of Black Panther

“[…] Black Panther shows Black characters in an unusual way. In the movie, not only are we not drug dealers and pimps and rapists, we are intellectuals and leaders and heroes—but not only are we intellectuals and leaders and heroes, we multifaceted and complicated. We are human. Black Panther celebrates the humanity of Blackness.”


Shay Stewart Bouley at Black Girl in Maine: “A Film and the Affirmation of Blackness… My Musings on Black Panther

“In a world that centers all things white, whiteness and proximity to whiteness, a blockbuster film that centers Blackness and uplifts Black women is a much-needed paradigm shift. It is not just a new way to re-envision our world through the lens of Afro-futurism but it is also an opportunity to take stock of the Nakia’s, Okoye’s and Shuri’s who are already in our midst but who are often overlooked. I imagine a world where a Black woman won’t feel that she is traveling life without a roadmap as an anomaly but instead will know that she is another in a long line of changemakers because Blackness will not be relegated to the margins.”


Finally, a great video clip where co-writer and director Ryan Coogler breaks down a section of the casino fight scene:

Black Panther’s Director Ryan Coogler Breaks Down a Fight Scene | Notes on a Scene | Vanity Fair

(Our random thoughts on the movie are here.)

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Some Random Thoughts on Black Panther

In no particular order. Spoiler warnings in effect.

Erik’s random thoughts:

  • This is the movie that Thor was trying to be: a Shakespearean family drama about an exiled hero coming to terms with the destiny of his people and his father’s failures in the midst of a gorgeous futuristic city-state. (On a side note: does anyone actually remember the original Thor movie or have we collectively agreed that the franchise starts with number 3?)
  • I love the architecture of Wakanda. It looks like the product of thousands of years of African tradition with the highest of modern technology, just as it should.
  • Even for a fantasy of African exceptionalism, the story does not shy away from the bitter real history of imperialism, exploitation, slavery, and its modern-day consequences, and the movie is richer and stronger for it.
  • Shuri is awesome. Her combination of flippancy in the face of tradition, passion for technological tinkering, and powerful love for her family and home make her a delight to watch. I think she’s my favorite character in the whole movie, and that’s not an easy pick in this one.
  • Could we have T’Challa and Shuri take over the Tony Stark role in the Marvel Universe, please? I appreciate what Iron Man did to kickstart the MCU and hold the early installments together, but I’ve had enough of him now. I honestly don’t think I can handle one more movie about Tony Stark’s emotional issues. T’Challa can be the guy in the super suit who cracks wise while leading the fight and Shuri can be the tinkerer who keeps upgrading everybody’s gear.
  • Even in a franchise that includes a movie about waking up one morning to discover that literal Nazis have taken over the US government, Black Panther feels like the movie we most need in 2018: a meditation on the temptations of division, resentment, and revenge and the hard choice of embracing a flawed and fractured world with hope. As crucially as Black Panther contributes to the representation of black people in genre media—and by Bast it does—it has a lot to say outside the dialogue of race as well.
  • For the record: as a white man, I have no problem whatsoever identifying with the characters of this movie. I’m not talking about Martin Freeman’s Everett Ross, either—Zuri is my guy.


Eppu’s random thoughts:

Note: These thoughts are based on one viewing. I’m fully aware that some of them are just scratching the surface and that I need to see the move (at least!) a second time and mull things over properly.

  • If I had to use one word to describe Black Panther, on a meta level it would be confelicity: I am so, so, SO glad for those black people who are exited, overjoyed, and exhilarated over seeing a full cast of people that look like them acting with grace and agency, not minimized but celebrated! On a story level, I’d use equality.
  • I knew from reading non-spoiler reviews beforehand that the movie passes the Bechdel test, so I didn’t even bother tracking it. It was very nice not to have to care.
  • If it was nice not to have to care about whether the Bechdel test passes or not, it was outright GLORIOUS to see that WOMEN ARE PEOPLE in their own right, with their own interior lives, not just breasts and posteriors for men to ogle. And such a spread of different women, too, each doing their thing according to their interests and skills. Because that’s who we are, and what we do, and have done for millenia, and it’s damn time that the self-absorbed, able-bodied, white cis hetero men in Hollywood respected that. (Yes, I know that the Black Panther team behind the camera included many, many people of color, including women, but that’s not the default, is it.)
  • And of course it’s not just that women are people in their own right, but that there are so many diverse black women. Have you any idea what a disservice (to put it mildly) your typical Anglo-American fiction does to women of color, especially black women? I didn’t until I started paying attention. It’s atrocious and shameful.
  • Black Panther was visually beautiful. Beautiful! It was so beautiful my brain experienced a moment of “this looks wrong” when stepping out of the movie theater into the dim and snowless February evening in Massachusetts.
  • Also, the sets and costumes were breathtaking just like I thought. Everything looked like it was produced by a living culture, with layers of history and development alike.
  • OMG, the tech. Those dragonfly helicopters! Attack rhinos! I kinda want those 3d phone calls! No—scratch that. The maglev trains and über-advanced health care. Like now.
  • The opening sequence (T’Chaka voiceover telling a story to young T’Challa) and the end credit visuals I thought nodded back to the superhero fight statue end credits for Avengers: Age of Ultron. Yet neither ever lost sight of the fact that they were for and about Black Panther.
  • A superhero movie with a male lead confident and mature enough to listen to others ROCKS! (Hat tip to Justina Ireland for pointing out T’Challa’s ability to listen as a core personality trait.)
  • I liked Martin Freeman’s character Everett Ross in this movie. He started with “I know what I’m doing, piss off little people” claptrap. In Wakanda, however, he quickly—and without too much whining—realized how out of his depth he was and spent a good while looking and listening and learning. In the final battle, he redeemed himself to some extent in my eyes when he hopped back into the fighter jet holo-interface to destoy the final cargo plane after he’d discovered that the base he was sitting in was under attack and that there was less than a minute before the gunfire broke through. And never, ever was he written or played as a Mighty Whitey.
  • It was also good to see a thoroughly accomplished man (T’Challa) grapple with impostor syndrome (not ready to be King). We don’t see or hear much of that; mostly it’s women who are saddled with it in the public discussion.
  • I liked T’Challa’s relationship with the rest of his family members, but I LOVED every moment between him and Princess Shuri. They so clearly love and respect each other as equals—with different skill sets, sure, but equals nevertheless—plus jostle around like real-life siblings.
  • Finally, all of the acting was so good. I won’t miss Andy Serkis’s character. At. All! Props to Serkis, his incredible performance made the dude truly terrifying and disgusting, but I’d rather watch the competent and kind Africans, thank you.

Shuri and T'Challa gif

Images: Black Panther poster via IMDb. Shuri and T’Challa gif via media.riffsy.com.

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.


Rating: Doctor Who, season 4

Next up in our rewatch-and-rating project is Doctor Who (new series), season 4. Here’s what we thought:

  1. “Voyage of the Damned” – 7.5
  2. “Partners in Crime” – 9
  3. “The Fires of Pompeii” – 6
  4. “Planet of the Ood” – 6
  5. “The Sontaran Stratagem” – 6
  6. “The Poison Sky” – 5
  7. “The Doctor’s Daughter” – 4
  8. “The Unicorn and the Wasp” – 10
  9. “Silence in the Library” – 10
  10. “Forest of the Dead” – 10
  11. “Midnight” – 9
  12. “Turn Left” – 5
  13. “The Stolen Earth” – 4
  14. “Journey’s End” – 4.5

Season 4 is a brilliant one studded with fantastic episodes. The overall average for the season is an impressive 6.9, and even the lowest-rating episodes of the season are a couple of 4s—no real stinkers this time around. Part of what makes this season so great is the Doctor’s new companion, Donna. After pseudo-girlfriends Rose and Martha (who both had their moments—especially Martha), Donna and the Doctor are just chums traveling time and space, which makes for a fresh dynamic. Catherine Tate puts in a wonderful performance as Donna, letting us see the vulnerability and warmth of heart under her brassy exterior. She and David Tennant also play wonderfully off of one another in their comic scenes. There are also some ingenious episodes this season, making drama and terror out of things as mundane as shadows and repeated words.

The least successful episodes for us were “The Doctor’s Daughter” and “The Stolen Earth,” both coming in at 4. In “The Doctor’s Daughter,” the Doctor gets insta-sorta-cloned to produce a soldier daughter in a bog-standard sci-fi story about two warring races who have forgotten what they were fighting over in the first place. “The Stolen Earth” is the set-up to a two-parter about the Earth (and other planets, including, bafflingly, Clom) disappearing from space as part of a nefarious plot. Most of the episode is spent watching various familiar characters fail to do anything of any particular use. Both of these episodes have a shaggy-dog-story quality to them with an interesting set-up but not much in the way of payoff. Even the return of our beloved Martha in both of these episodes can’t elevate the limp writing.

But that’s okay, because we are spoiled with not one, not two, but three full 10s at the top of the list. First there’s “The Unicorn and the Wasp,” a delicious romp that brings us Agatha Christie with a giant alien wasp twist. This episode manages the difficult task of snort-guffawing it’s way through all the tropes of the English country house mystery while still creating a powerful emotional story around Christie’s famous disappearance and amnesia. Then there’s “Silence in the Library” and “Forest of the Dead,” a stunning two-parter that poses a complicated mystery with a powerful and satisfying resolution. The Doctor and Donna arrive in a planet-sized library to find it empty of people, but filled with shadows that can kill. After a perilous adventure and the slow unraveling of the library’s secrets, we end with a touching story about the lengths we will go to for the people we love. This episode is also noteworthy for introducing Professor River Song, marvelously played by Alex Kingston. A couple of time-travelers, the Doctor here meets River for the first time, just as she is meeting him for the last time.

Honorable mention goes to “Partners in Crime,” at 9, in which Donna and the Doctor run into each other while investigating the same shady weight-loss company, and “Midnight,” a claustrophobic horror story about a mysterious force copying people’s words.

There are lots of other Doctor Who fans out there, and you may have different takes on this season’s highs and lows. We’d love to hear about it. Feel free to share which episodes of season 4 you loved or didn’t.

Images: Doctor Who season 4 via IMDb; Donna and the Doctor via Send me to the Stars; River Song via Everything is Topsy Turvy!

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.


Rating: Doctor Who, Season 3

Time moves ever onwards and so do we. Here’s our take on Doctor Who (new series) season 3:

  1. “The Runaway Bride” – 5.5
  2. “Smith and Jones” – 9.5
  3. “The Shakespeare Code” – 7.5
  4. “Gridlock” – 6
  5. “Daleks in Manhattan” – 6
  6. “Evolution of the Daleks” – 4
  7. “The Lazarus Experiment” – 1
  8. “42” – 10
  9. “Human Nature” – 6
  10. “The Family of Blood” – 7.5
  11. “Blink” – 10
  12. “Utopia” – 4
  13. “The Sound of Drums” – 2.5
  14. “The Last of the Time Lords” – 3

Season 3 is a roller coast ride with some incredible highs, a few real lows, and a lot of good solid episodes in between. The average rating for the season is 5.9, a good showing and a noticeable increase from the previous two seasons, at 5.3. This season brings us Martha, a medical student with a good head on her shoulders and our all-time favorite companion. We also see David Tennant’s acting chops as he gets to play not just the Doctor but also an absent-minded schoolmaster and a murderous sun (yes, a sun). After some wobbly writing in previous seasons, this season gets more of a grip on how to balance the whimsical aspects of the show with its serious side.

The low point of the season is “The Lazarus Experiment” at a dismal 1, about a rejuvenation device that goes horribly wrong and turns its creator into a bad CGI scorpion thing. There are so many problems with this episode, from laggy pacing to a plot that is nonsensical even by Doctor Who‘s generous standards. Too much time is spent on Dr. Lazarus, a shallow stereotype of a bitter old man that we are apparently meant to find deep and engaging (and of course he’s called Dr. Lazarus—we couldn’t have a character who wants to restore his lost youth not be called Dr. Lazarus, could we?). Even a “reverse the polarity” callback gag can’t save this episode.

At the other end of the scale, there are two absolute standout episodes this season, both rating a full 10. The first is “42,” an intense and emotional thriller about a spaceship under attack by a killer star, whose predicament turns out to be more complex than at first appears. Everything in this episode is at its best: the fast-paced plot that still finds time for Martha to reflect on her time with the Doctor, the guest cast who even in their brief screen time bring life and depth to their space-trucker characters, and the music, which gives us one of the tenth Doctor’s most thrilling themes.

Burn With Me via DoctorWhoInfinity

And then there’s “Blink,” an episode like no other. The Doctor and Matha appear only sporadically in this one, and instead we follow Sally Sparrow as she slowly unravels the mystery of the Weeping Angels. This episode does ingenious things with time travel (a surprising rarity in a show about a time traveler), including messages left on the walls of an old house under peeling wallpaper and a long-distance conversation via DVD Easter egg. It is also a masterful demonstration that you don’t have to have violence or gore to be absolutely terrifying. This is an episode that rewards watching over and over again—just not late at night when you’re alone in the house.

Honorable mention goes to “Smith and Jones,” at 9.5, which introduces Martha with a story about an alien killer hiding in a London hospital—taken to the moon. We see Martha in action as a level-headed problem-solver while David Tennant gets to deliver some goofy comedy.

We know there are lots of other Doctor Who fans out there, and some of you have different takes on this season and its episodes. We’d love to hear about it. Let us know which episodes of season 3 you loved or didn’t.

Image: Doctor Who Season 3 via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.


Rating: Doctor Who, Season 2

We’re continuing to rewatch and rate Doctor Who (new series) with season 2. Here’s how the season looks to us:

  1. “The Christmas Invasion” – 6
  2. “New Earth” – 3.5
  3. “Tooth and Claw” – 9
  4. “School Reunion” – 5
  5. “The Girl in the Fireplace” – 9
  6. “Rise of the Cybermen” – 4
  7. “The Age of Steel” – 4
  8. “The Idiot’s Lantern” – 5
  9. “The Impossible Planet” – 8
  10. “The Satan Pit” – 7
  11. “Love and Monsters” – 4
  12. “Fear Her” – 5
  13. “Army of Ghosts” – 2.5
  14. “Doomsday” – 2

Season 2 carries on much in the same spirit as season 1, with a mix of highs and lows, and ends up with the same average rating, 5.3. David Tennant slides easily into his role as the tenth Doctor, although we found Rose started to wear thin as a companion in this season and by the end of it we weren’t sorry to see the back of her. (In fact, by the end of the season, we were much more excited to see her erstwhile boyfriend Mickey return than to see any more of Rose.)

The low point of the season comes at the very end, with “Doomsday”—the conclusion to a two-part finale in which Cybermen and Daleks fight in the skies over London—coming it at only a 2. Many things dragged this episode down, including the ham-fisted introduction of Torchwood, which had been teased all season long. Worse, coming after some of the well-crafted storytelling in previous episodes, this one chucks out any attempt at story development or narrative logic in favor of Daleks and Cybermen trash talking each other.

By contrast, the best episodes of the season, “Tooth and Claw” and “The Girl in the Fireplace,” both at 9, show off how effective the slow unfolding of complex stories can be. “Tooth and Claw” has Queen Victoria menaced by an alien werewolf in the Scottish highlands while “The Girl in the Fireplace” has Madame de Pompadour menaced by clockwork robots from the future. Although both these episodes involve historical women in danger, neither is a “damsel in distress” story, as both Victoria and Madame de Pompadour get to play active roles in their stories. These episodes also share a pattern of multi-layered plots in which things that seem bizarre and inexplicable at first gradually become clear as pieces of the story fall into place one after another.

We know there are lots of other Doctor Who fans out there, and some of you probably feel quite different about this season and its episodes. We’d love to hear your take. Let us know which episodes of season 2 worked for you or didn’t.

Image: Doctor Who Season 2 via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.


Rating: Doctor Who, Season 1

We have continued our rewatching-and-rating project into a series with a bigger fan following: the rebooted Doctor Who that began its broadcast life in 2005. We know that there are a lot of Who fans out there who are passionate about the series and feel strongly about certain episodes and characters. Here’s how we felt about the first season, starring Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor and Billie Piper as his companion Rose.

  1. “Rose” – 4
  2. “The End of the World” – 4
  3. “The Unquiet Dead” – 4.5
  4. “Aliens of London” – 6
  5. “World War Three” – 6
  6. “Dalek” – 4
  7. “The Long Game” – 4.5
  8. “Father’s Day” – 5.5
  9. “The Empty Child” – 8.5
  10. “The Doctor Dances” – 10
  11. “Boom Town” – 5
  12. “Bad Wolf” – 4
  13. “The Parting of the Ways” – 3

It’s a rocky start to the new show, which is understandable given how much weight this first season had to carry: living up to the nostalgia for the old show while proving that the Doctor Who formula could be made fresh, new, and relevant for a new generation. The average episode rating for this season is 5.3, which is low but decent.

The lowest-rate episode of the season is the finale, “The Parting of the Ways,” in which the Doctor faces off against a Dalek invasion of Earth in the future while Rose desperately tries to get back to him from the present. It rated only a 3 for several reasons. There are pacing and structural issues with the story and its ending relies too much on an almost literal dea ex machina. We find Dalek stories generally weak because the Daleks are flat as characters and overpowered as antagonists.

The standout best episode of the season, though, is “The Doctor Dances” at a full 10. In WWII-era London, the Doctor and Rose deal with both dashing Time Agent-turned-con artist Jack Harkness and a monster that looks like a little boy in a gas mask but who turns those he touches into mindless gas-mask-faced shadows of themselves. As the conclusion to a two-part story after the very strong “The Empty Child,” this episode is full of both sparkling wit, clever sci-fi ideas, and powerful human drama.

This season’s heart (or hearts) are in the right place, even if it doesn’t always deliver. The “dig in the couch cushions and see what you find” special effects budget of the old show was always part of its quirky charm, but the fist season of the new show clearly struggled to live within its means. Not every episode pulled off the right balance of whimsy and pathos. Still, this season did what it needed to: it brought us back the Doctor and the TARDIS and prepared the way for greater adventures to come.

We know there are lots of other Doctor Who fans out there, and some of you probably feel quite different about this season and its episodes. We’d love to hear your take. Let us know which episodes of season 1 worked for you or didn’t.

Image: Doctor Who Series 1 via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.


Some Random Thoughts on Thor: Ragnarok

In no particular order. Spoiler warnings in effect.

  • This is so much better than either of the previous Thor movies. Apparently goofy comedy smashfest is a better mode for space-Viking superhero movies than Shakespearean family drama is.
  • Chris Hemsworth’s performance in this movie is about halfway between his previous Thor performances and his performance in Ghostbusters. It works.
  • This wacky colorful space opera works for me so much better than the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. I seem to be in a minority position, but I hated Guardians of the Galaxy, both times, though not for the wacky colorful space opera parts. What I hated was the arrogant, incompetent male “heroes” and the misogyny-as-comedy. Without those things, I’m totally down for the wacky colorful space opera.
  • Cate Blanchett and Tessa Thompson both give brilliant performances. Maybe someday—hopefully someday soon—we can get a superhero movie with more than two leading roles for women.
  • Korg was amusing, and I can tell Taika Waititi had a blast playing him, but he really felt unnecessary most of the time. The same can be said for Doctor Strange (although, to be fair, the whole Doctor Strange movie franchise feels a bit unnecessary to me).
  • After the last few Marvel movies, we now have Captain America without his shield, Iron Man without a reactor in his chest, and Thor without his hammer. It’s going to be interesting to see how these characters develop without some of their iconic accouterments.
  • A fun romp with good jokes, exciting fights, and beautiful visuals is pretty much exactly what I needed right now, so thank you, Marvel!


Additional thoughts by Eppu

  • As a rule of thumb, I don’t care a whit whether the Marvel Cinematic Universe Thor matches the comic books Thor canon, or even Nordic mythology. There was fairly good consistency, story-wise. However, I’m not sure what to think of the decision to crank up the humor to eleven. I enjoyed the movie a lot, yes, but if memory serves, stylistically it deviates quite a bit from the two previous ones, and that seems to be deviating from the MCU convention. I’m still mulling it over.
  • The design for the trash planet Sakaar was refreshingly different. Colors!
  • Two plotholes stood out (or I missed the explanation because there were no subtitles): 1) Thor and Hulk inexplicably left their arena fight in the middle of action, and were all buddy-buddy afterwards. 2) The gladiators were railroaded to Asgard on their stolen spaceship. Um, I thought they started a revolution…? (If it’s a revolution, you stay; if not, it’s an escape.)
  • It was great to see so many women in the background, and two big speaking roles for women, but I want more. And not just girlfriends, or wives, or hookers, or fridged corpses. More women as people in their own right! More women speaking! More women! MORE WOMEN!


Recommended reading

Dan Taipua at The Spinoff reveals the Maori / New Zealander mentality hidden in T:R.

Emily Asher-Perrin’s writeup at Tor.com on all the three Thor movies is really good.

Taika Waititi: Paying It Forward on Thor: Ragnarok (found via Good Stuff Happened Today on Tumblr)

Image: Still from Thor: Ragnarok via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.


Three Favorite Jane Austen Screen Adaptations

July 18, 2017, marked the 200th anniversary of the death of Jane Austen, my favorite (deceased) author.

JASNA Truth Universally Acknowledged Book Always Better

To honor her work, we rewatched all of the screen adaptations that we could easily get our hands on.

Jane Austen Rewatch Owned Adaptations

Here, in short, are three of my absolute favorites. (For links to the complete reviews, visit my post A Jane Austen Rewatch Project for the 200th Anniversary of Her Passing.)

Sense and Sensibility (anonymously published in 1811) is by far my favorite Austen novel, and my favorite adaptation is the Andrew Davies miniseries (directed by John Alexander; 2008). It stars Hattie Morahan and Charity Wakefield as Elinor and Marianne. Both were new to me, but I was familiar with the significant male actors: Dan Stevens (Mr. Edward Ferrars) is in the first few seasons of Downton Abbey, David Morrissey (Colonel Brandon) portrays the confused faux-Doctor in the Doctor Who Christmas special “The Next Doctor”, and Dominic Cooper (Mr. Willoughby) as young Howard Stark scratches science to see if it bleeds in Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Captain America: The First Avenger and Agent Carter (and rules as King Llane Wrynn in the Warcraft movie).

It was a gutsy choice of Davies to begin the series with Willoughby’s explicit seduction of a 15-year-old girl, an event which happens very much off-screen in the novel and most adaptations, but becomes the crux of the plot.

The series does have some issues. For example, the Devonshire “cottage” that the financially strained Dashwood ladies had to accept was turned into a literal cottage instead of a good, solid house from the novel. The events are condensed, sure, but their pace doesn’t feel rushed like in the movie versions. Most of the writing, acting, propping, and costuming are solid to excellent.

Jane Austen Rewatch Three Favorites

Emma (1815) was the fourth and last of Austen’s works to be published during her lifetime, and the Emma miniseries from 2009 (adapted by Sandy Welch, directed by Jim O’Hanlon) outshines the other adaptations. (Unsuprisingly, the miniseries format serves Austen’s nuance much better than the movie length.)

The version has several strengths, starting with excellent casting. Romola Garai stars as Emma Woodhouse, and Jonny Lee Miller (who has more recently – and deservedly – starred as Sherlock Holmes in the series Elementary) as Mr. Knightley. Miller’s is by far the most enjoyable Mr. Knightley performance I’ve seen. Mr. Knightley is often played as rather curt and strict, which I find not just offputting but a mistake.

All major characters are introduced at the beginning of episode 1, which helps people new to Austen. Moreover, this version does the epilogue clearly and succinctly, without massive infodumping. In addition, I immensely enjoy the music, the set dressing, costuming and propping, and other visuals. It’s a thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyable Emma. In fact, if the same team were to make other Austen adaptations, I’d go to great lenghts to see them.

Finally, Persuasion is a novel of pressures, choices, and second chances, posthumously published in 1817. The 1995 movie version of Persuasion is excellent. The screenplay is by Nick Dear, and Roger Mitchell directed Amanda Root as Anne Elliot and Ciarán Hinds as Captain Wentworth. I really like Root’s understated and considerate version of Anne; Hinds works well enough even if a few scenes tend towards hammy.

Although the picture quality is grainy, the soundtrack is nice and there are subtitles (not a given on older DVDs). The props, locations, and costuming are also great. This is my favorite version so far—in an ideal world, of course, we would be due another adaptation.

For links to the complete mini-reviews of these and all of the other adaptations, visit my post A Jane Austen Rewatch Project for the 200th Anniversary of Her Passing.

Images: Book is always better screencap from JASNA website. Both DVD images by Eppu Jensen.

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.


Rating: Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries

We’ve now rewatched and rated season 3 of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, and it is over too soon! Season 3 is several episodes shorter than the first two seasons (on 8 episodes, compared with 13). The quality of the episodes also suffers a little in the third season, but it was still a delight to watch.

  1. “Death Defying Feats” – 6
  2. “Murder and the Maiden” – 7.5
  3. “Murder and Mozzarella” – 7
  4. “Blood and Money” – 7
  5. “Death and Hysteria” – 7
  6. “Death at the Grand” – 4
  7. “Game, Set, and Murder” – 6
  8. “Death Do Us Part” – 6

The average for this season is 6.3, a bit of a step down from the previous season’s 7.1, but still perfectly respectable. Most of the season’s episodes are at least average and there’s a good bunch of 7s.

Our diminished enjoyment of this season can be largely put down to one cause: Phryne’s father, who pops up in several episodes and dominates the season’s low point, “Death at the Grand,” which we rated only a 4. He is a selfish, irresponsible man who aggravates Phryne and us. Fiction, of course, is not real life; sometimes terrible people make for great characters, but this is not one of them. All Phryne’s father does for us is to put a damper on the wit, sparkle, and verve that we love this series for.

To balance that, the high point of the season is “Murder and the Maiden,” an interesting and complicated mystery surrounding the death of a pilot who turns out to have been leading a double life.

And now we have a Miss Fisher movie to look forward to! This is a series that definitely deserves a good send-off, so we can’t wait.

Image: Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.